Project: The Arts, Health and Wellbeing Research Network

The Arts, Health and Wellbeing Research Network is a cross-faculty multidisciplinary initiative at ARU which brings together researchers interested in capturing the broad range of arts and culture where creative tasks and activities have been invoked to support health and wellbeing.

We aim to foster research collaboration across faculties and disciplines.

Back view of academics sitting on chairs and tables in a seminar room, in a workshop

Drawing new connections

The Arts, Health and Wellbeing Research Network was formed following the Re-mapping the State of Arts, Health, and Wellbeing Research at ARU event in July 2022, funded by the Health, Performance and Wellbeing research theme.

Photos: George Shipley

Re-Mapping the State of Arts, Health and Wellbeing Research at ARU

This cross-faculty event was planned by Prof Hilary Bungay (Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Sciences – HEMS), Prof Helen Odell-Miller (Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research – CIMTR), Dr Elena Cologni (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – AHSS), and Dr Tom Kersey (Veterans & Families Institute for Military Social Research – VFI), supported by Felicity Alwell (CIMTR) and Nina Wollersberger (CIMTR).

It aimed to capture the breadth and depth of arts, health and wellbeing research across the University, as well as provide networking opportunities with a view to forming new cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Fifteen staff members and postgraduate researchers from across the University presented their research, representing a wide range of arts, cultural, and wellbeing activities, and arts therapies.

We also invited independent consultant Dr Emily Bradfield to produce a ‘creative capture’ – a visual summary – of the morning talks, while two CIMTR students provided live music throughout the day.

Back view of academics sitting at tables in a seminar room, listening to a talk

As well as laying the foundations for the Network, this event gave us the opportunity to recognise ARU's strong track record of interdisciplinary working and gaining external funding from Arts Council England, research councils, and other funding bodies for research in the field of arts, performance, health, and wellbeing research.

Since the event, we have been running a programme of seminars from staff in the Network, and are planning a public event in autumn 2023.

Why arts for health and wellbeing?

“The practice of using the arts to promote healing and happiness is as old as the arts themselves. For early civilizations, aesthetic beauty in objects or surroundings and the soothing rhythms of words, movement and music contributed to the balance and harmony between bodily systems and environment which was believed to maintain good health.” – Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), June 2013.

Arts, cultural and creative activities can encompass a range of different forms of activity undertaken individually or with others.

The Network embraces an inclusive approach regarding arts and cultural activities, and is open to people with an interest in digital media, poetry, visual arts, music, dance, and drama (live or on screen), as well as film, photography, literature, storytelling, monuments and murals, museums, archives, arts in nature, and more, as well as ‘everyday creativity’ such as knitting, crocheting, arts and crafts, doodling, and gardening.

We also have members who are using arts-based methods in their research to both collect and present their data.

Why have an Arts, Health and Wellbeing Research Network?

The central premise of the Network is that engaging with arts has a significant part to play in improving physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The arts can be considered as a route to health and wellbeing through the arts therapies, but they also have a role in public health and can be a treatment, an adjunct to other therapeutic approaches.

They can also have a role in enhancing social relationships, therefore reducing loneliness and social isolation.

The field of arts, health and wellbeing research lies in the intersection between health, social sciences, and the arts and humanities. This multidisciplinary nature is demonstrated by the composition of the network.

In addition to the research interests of individual students and staff across the University, there are external drivers in the policy and practice sectors encouraging further research into the arts, and culture health and wellbeing. These include:

  • Increased interest at a government and policy level in arts health and wellbeing, with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts Health and Wellbeing having an instrumental role in the establishment of a National Centre for Creative Health, and the National Academy of Social Prescribing being set up to foster partnerships across arts, health, leisure and the natural environment to promote health and wellbeing.
  • Arts Council England's Let's Create strategy and Creative Health and Wellbeing plan's stated aim is to promote creative health as a fundamental part of living well, for individual lives, in communities, and globally. The strategy was developed with input from a wide range of key partners across the health and care landscape, including public bodies such as the Department for Health and Social Care, NHS England, NHS Improvement, and Public Health England (now the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities), as well as national charities such as Age UK, Mind, and Scope.